How to Solve Complex Problems…
When you’re facing a complex problem or trying to do something big and bold, the simplest way to solve that problem is to start with a smaller version of the larger one. After all, you can’t eat whole cake at once, but slice it into eight pieces and eat each piece bite by bite and you may, just may, eat a whole cake.
By breaking things down into smaller constituent parts ,you won’t get the big answer quickly, but you will be able to make inroads, bit by bit if you solve the problem in parts. If you focus exclusively on that small problem and solve it, you can then use the answers to move you onto the next part. It is a simple process to divide and conquer.
If you consider other industries and the leading companies within them, you can see this pattern everywhere.
Consider Google for example. The company started by collaborating on a search engine called BackRub. They didn’t invent search engines, they merely collaborated on an existing one. And in this case BackRub, powered Stanford University’s servers. Here they mastered the art of finding data on an intranet, from there it was a small step to doing the same on the Internet. A small step opened up a much wider audience. In August 1998, Page and Brin incorporate Google Inc. and in October 2000 they launched Adwords taking over 2 years to monetise their idea. Today, they’re planning on bringing same day delivery to shopping via Google Shopping Express and are building a driverless car and lots, lots more.
Google could have started by trying to solve the big problem: how do we master digital commerce? Instead, they started with a narrow focus and expanded from there. It has been proven many times that this small-to-large approach works well for businesses. But can it work for your business? Of course, if you think differently…
The Idea in Practice…
Let’s consider a few examples of how we might put this idea into practice.
BIG PROBLEM: How do we attract new customers?
SMALL SOLUTION: Solve a problem that one prospective customer has and then look for similar people with the same problem. Once you become a problem solver for that one person, as long as their need is not isolated, your next step is amplification. How to appeal to more customers is the easy part, it is just a simple case of marketing. Once you know how to segment a market by common needs, you can then adapt your goods/service to appeal to the needs of that particular segment.
BIG PROBLEM: How can I run a marathon?
SMALL SOLUTION: Look for a training program to get you running 5k without stopping (hint: there is an app called ‘Get Running’ available for the iPhone – try it). Once you follow a relatively simple program that gets you running three times a week to increase your distance to 5k, you can then look for the next step, 10k. It’s the same process, but the distances and times spent exercising increases. From there a half marathon is a small step and once you’re half marathon fit, you’re 6 -12 weeks away from a marathon distance.
BIG PROBLEM: How can my business increase its profits?
SMALL SOLUTION: The simple solution is to reduce your expenses. This is what any ‘traditional’ accountant will tell you. But the REAL way to increase profits is to spend more money. This sounds counter productive right? The trick is to spend it wisely. After all, this is why you spend money on your business, because spending it is a business enabler and where you add value to that spend. The most powerfully simple thing to spend money on, is finding out how your customers find both you and your competitors and optimise your efforts in appealing to them via that channel.
Narrowing your focus is a mental model that you can apply whenever you want to start a new behaviour or take on a new project that seems too big or overwhelming or complex to handle. It is a filter you can run larger problems through, to approach issues from a more useful place. Accept that you need to change your own mindset first and foremost to change your own behaviours. Look at the behaviours of successful entrepreneurs or your mentor (every entrepreneur should have one) and ensure that your own behaviour is congruent with that of super successful business people.
So, how do you solve big problems? Start with a smaller one.